Pistol Tips for the Rifle Shooter

In Blog by Rich2 Comments

Why are you reading about pistol tips on a Tactical Rifle website? Easy answer! A lot of tactical rifle matches are starting to integrate pistol work! More and more tactical rifle competitions are starting to include stages that include some pistol targets. Many of these stages portray a sort of “fight your way to the rifle with your pistol” sort of scenario. At the 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup one stage had you start by engaging targets from the drivers seat of an SUV through the passenger side windows with your pistol. You were then able to retrieve your rifle from the back seat and engage rifle targets at distance from the hood and beneath the engine compartment.

It was a lot of fun, and it’s becoming fairly commonplace! I had the idea for this article on pistol tips when talking to some shooters at the 2015 SHC who admitted they weren’t very good shots with a pistol. That’s not all that surprising to read, but these were some really talented rifle shooters who were confessing a lack of proficiency with their pistol. I was a bit surprised by this. I’m a fairly decent shot with a pistol, I’ve been through an instructor school, and I’m sure there are plenty of competitive pistol people that can blow me away if I was to attend a pistol match put on by USPSA or IDPA. However, I did string together some pistol tips for those of us that may encounter a pistol stage, who aren’t  ranked competitive pistol shooters, but would still like to improve our pistol accuracy at a match with pistol stages.

Pistol Tips – Basics

One of the common areas that can help improve your performance with your pistol is your grip! A lot of people kinda wing the grip they use on their pistol or they copy something they’ve seen in a movie or had a buddy show them. Your strong hand should grip the pistol with the web of your hand, between your thumb and forefinger, as high up on the grip as possible. Get that web making good hard contact with the top of your pistol’s grip area. Your index finger should be extended, straight, and laying comfortably along the slide of the pistol you are shooting. Keep your finger off the trigger, and out of the trigger guard until ready to fire!


Keep the web of your hand between thumb and fore finger high up on the grip and in contact with that portion of the frame, trigger finger off the trigger and along the side of the slide until ready to fire


Strong hand grip (Righty for me) the space between the thumb and fingers is what you will fill with your weak hand

Your weak hand should should come up on the opposite side of the pistol as your strong hand. There will be a space between the meaty part of your strong thumb, and where the fingers of your strong hand wrap around the front of the pistol’s grip. You want to lay your weak hand there so the meaty part of your weak thumb fills that open space on the weak side of the pistol’s grip. Your strong thumb should lay on top of your weak thumb “doggy style” with both thumbs facing forward and resting on the weak side of the pistol. Your weak fingers should lay on top of your strong fingers wrapping around the front of the pistol grip in the opposite direction of the strong hand fingers.


Thumbs forward grip, fill that space between thumb and fingers with the weak palm

If you find yourself having trouble keeping the sights from moving around as you are working through the trigger press, increase the pressure from your strong and weak hand on the grip inward as if trying to smoosh the pistol grip between your hands. If you try to squeeze by applying pressure with your fingers you will run into issues with the pressure pulling the sights off the target and your point of impact will shift away from what you are trying to hit! So remember, press inwards, not front to back!

Pistol Tips – Trigger Press

As important as trigger press is to rifle shooters, I’m amazed how badly and how rapidly rifle shooters slap the shit out of their pistol’s trigger. Seriously, slow down! Each trigger press should be smooth and deliberate just like when you’re on your rifle. If you stop and listen when your group encounters a pistol stage at a rifle match, the tempo of the shots will tell you who knows what they’re doing and who’s spraying and praying. Good consistent pistol shooters will fire in a methodical tempo…bang—>ting…bang—>ting! The guys that shoot fast are slapping the trigger and its easy to tell the difference just listening. Bang->Bang->Bang->Bang…No “Ting!” from a hit on steel.

A proper trigger press on a pistol is just like your rifle. Hold the trigger to the rear after the gun fires, then slowly ease off the rearward pressure until you feel the trigger “click” as it resets for the next shot. Then start a smooth and deliberate pull for the next shot. You should NOT be firing and immediately releasing all rearward pressure from the trigger and starting the trigger press over from square one at the forward most position of the trigger. If you make a point of feeling the trigger reset after each shot, that will slow down your firing tempo just enough to help you be more accurate and avoid slapping the trigger. Remember, you can’t shoot fast enough to make up for a miss!

Pistol Tips – Reloading

Reloading seems throw people for a loop sometimes. I think part of it is a lack of familiarity with where they keep their spare mags. Find a place you like having your gear, and set it up the same way every time. You should be able to reach for anything you need, especially a spare magazine, without looking for where it is on your belt. I recommend keeping the magazines on your weak side, in front of your hip, with the magazine oriented so the bullet tips face where the gun will be in your hand. This way when you grab the magazine, the bullet tips are beneath the fore finger of your weak hand. As you come up to slap the magazine into your pistol, your weak fore finger just searches for the front of the bottom surface of the pistol grip and the rest happens on its own!

Keep the gun up in front of your face when you reload! If the gun runs dry, keep the pistol up, facing the target as you hit the magazine release. Bring the spare mag up all while keeping the gun pointed downrange, at the target! Slap the new magazine in, release the slide by giving it a yank rearward with your weak hand and letting it “slingshot” forward to chamber the first round.

Wrapping Up

Most of the techniques we talk about with rifles, also apply to pistols. Don’t get into a habit of using a sloppy trigger press just because you’re shooting a pistol. I think the reason people tend to do that is because at pistol engagement distances, you can get away with a lot of bad habits and still hit the target. However, if a match director throws a pistol target into the mix and it’s farther away, or smaller in size, you’re going to be in trouble…IF you practice bad habits of pistol marksmanship. The pistol tips I’m throwing out there are just some basics to help out some of the guys that are struggling with this when a pistol target finds its way into a rifle match. If you really want to improve, consider attending a few USPSA pistol matches and leave your ego at home! If you enjoyed this, have tips of your own, drop them in the comments below!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.


  1. Sights and triggers.

    Back when I started shooting 3 gun, before it was big, you could have been an OK pistol, sorta ok shotgun, and lame rifle shooter and you’d do well. The pistol guys didn’t do so well with the other platforms. It was kinda like competing in crossfit, you didn’t have to be great at anything, you just couldn’t suck at anything.

    USPSA and IPSC (IDPA to a lesser extent) encourage some pretty bad habits- no focus on accuracy, no follow through, way too much speed and you clear you pistol pulling the trigger (who thought that was a good habit to get into).

    I often suggest people shoot some sort of standard or qualification for practice. The FBI pistol qual (old), CSAT standards or IDPA qualifier.

    If I only had 50 rounds to shoot I would shoot Paul Howe’s CSAT standards for the pistol. http://www.combatshootingandtactics.com/standards.htm

    Shot go and no go on his target, or an IPSC A zone- you have to meet the time and the 6″ wide A zone on the target to pass. They provide excellent feedback on areas in need of improvement.

    1. Author

      I have never understood the whole pull the trigger when clearing the gun. I know it has to do with the hammer down concept but I agree it seems like asking for a problem.

      I’m reading over your link, we did some similar drills/standards when I went to pistol instructor school at work.

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